This post on facts about Sforza Castle and Museum also known as Castello Sforzesco was last updated on May 10, 2023.
Sforza Castle is famous for its rich historical significance and architectural grandeur. The castle served as a residence and fortress for various ruling dynasties along with a significant role in the political and cultural history of Milan. The castle boasts an impressive Renaissance-style design and houses several notable art collections, including works by Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. Today, Sforza Castle stands as a popular tourist destination and a symbol of Milan’s heritage and cultural legacy.
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HERE’S HOW TO SEE THE SFORZA CASTLE AND MUSEUMS
- Experience Leonardo’s The Last Supper painting with skip-the-line access + See the expansive Sforza Castle grounds (museum excluded) with a guide.
- Get a guided experience of the Sforza Castle, Battlements and The Last Supper painting at Santa Maria delle Grazie.
WHEN AND WHY SFORZA CASTLE WAS BUILT
Sforza Castle was built in the 14th century by the Visconti family, who transformed it into a magnificent palace. The Visconti family, rulers of Milan at the time, constructed the fortress using red bricks, giving it a distinct appearance.
However, during the Golden Ambrosian Republic, a period of brief independence for Milan in the mid-15th century, the castle suffered significant damage and was nearly destroyed. The Republic, led by the condottiero Francesco Sforza, aimed to dismantle the symbols of Visconti power, and Sforza Castle was a prominent target.
Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan.
A castle was later rebuilt on the remnants of the Visconti castle and expanded under the rule of Francesco Sforza, who became the Duke of Milan. Francesco Sforza built Sforza Castle as a symbol of power, a strategic stronghold, and a testament to his own legacy, representing the aspirations and ambitions of the ruling Sforza family in Milan.
The Duke commissioned several of the greatest artists of the times such as Donato Bramante and Leonardo da Vinci. It was one of the most magnificent residences in Italy as a result.
During the 16th and 17th centuries, Sforza Castle was renovated and enlarged to be one of the largest castles in Europe.
Foreign Powers and WWII
During the next four centuries, the castle was dominated by foreign powers, French, Spanish, Austrian. The function changed as well, from a residence to a military complex. It was later used as barracks by the Italian army.
In 1905 the castle was completely restored to the way it was under the Sforza family by architect Luca Beltrami. The parade grounds at the rear of the castle was turned into a park.
During World War II, the castle was severely damaged. At the end of the twentieth century the Castle square was built with a fountain in the centre. In 2005, the restoration of the Cortile della Ghirlanda and the halls of the castle were completed.
THE CASTLE DESIGN
The Sforza Castle is of a square plan, with three inner courtyards dominated by four imposing towers on each corner. There are two round towers facing the city and two square towers at the other end. The round towers are known as the Torre di Santi Spirito and the Torre del Carmine. At the rear are two more towers, the Torre Castellana and Torre Falconiera.
The main entrance to the Sforzesco Castle is via the castle’s tallest tower, Torre del Filarete. It leads to an expansive inner courtyard. Exploring the castle grounds will bring you to the Torre di Bona di Savoia. Beyond this tower lies two smaller courtyards, the Cortile della Rocchetta to the left and the Corte Ducale to the right.
The Rocchetta was the castle’s stronghold and the last refuge in case of a siege.
FACTS ABOUT SFORZA CASTLE AND MUSEUM, MILAN
Here are some interesting facts about the castle which you would love to know:
Sforza Castle, with its imposing presence in Milan, holds immense historical significance. It served as a powerful symbol of authority for the ruling families of Milan, particularly the Sforza dynasty. As the seat of power, the castle represented their dominance and influence over the region during the Renaissance period.
Throughout its history, Sforza Castle bore witness to significant historical events in Italy. It experienced the French occupation of Milan in the late 15th century when King Louis XII asserted control over the city. Subsequently, during the Spanish dominion in the 16th and 17th centuries, the castle remained a focal point of political activity. The castle’s history is intertwined with the lives of notable figures, such as Ludovico Sforza, known as Ludovico il Moro, who commissioned renowned artists like Leonardo da Vinci to contribute to the castle’s grandeur.
Sforza Castle played a role in the Italian Wars of the 16th century, which saw rival powers vying for control over Milan and its territories. Despite enduring the ravages of time, including damage during World War II, Sforza Castle underwent extensive restoration and transformation in the 19th century. This restoration emphasized the historical significance of the castle and its importance as a cultural and artistic hub for the city.
In essence, Sforza Castle’s historical significance lies in its representation of power, its association with significant historical events, and its connection to influential figures of the past. It stands as a testament to the rich history of Milan and continues to captivate visitors who are eager to delve into Italy’s captivating past.
Sforza Castle in Milan boasts a captivating architectural style that reflects the diverse influences it has accumulated over the centuries. Its structure is a fascinating amalgamation of architectural styles, including Renaissance, Gothic, and Romanesque elements.
The castle’s original construction began in the 15th century, under the patronage of Francesco Sforza, the Duke of Milan. The core of the castle exhibits a medieval fortress design with robust walls, sturdy towers, and defensive features.
As Milan flourished during the Renaissance, subsequent rulers and architects added Renaissance elements to the castle’s architecture. The Renaissance influence is particularly evident in the ornate detailing, elegant proportions, and harmonious symmetry seen in various parts of the castle.
Gothic architectural elements are also present, especially in the tall pointed arches, ribbed vaults, and slender columns found in certain sections of the castle. These Gothic features hark back to an earlier era and add a sense of verticality and grace to the overall design.
Additionally, Romanesque elements can be seen in the castle’s robust forms, solid stone walls, and rounded arches, which reflect the architectural style prevalent during the medieval period. The combination of these architectural styles creates a visually striking and harmonious ensemble.
Marvel at the intricate details of Renaissance sculptures, the grace of Gothic arches, and the solidity of Romanesque structures as they explore the castle’s courtyards, halls, and towers. The architectural fusion of Renaissance, Gothic, and Romanesque styles at Sforza Castle not only showcases the evolution of architectural trends but also adds to the castle’s unique charm and historical significance, making it a captivating destination for architecture enthusiasts and history buffs alike.
Leonardo da Vinci’s Contributions
Leonardo da Vinci, the illustrious artist and inventor of the Renaissance, left his remarkable contributions. Working under the patronage of Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, Leonardo undertook several projects within the castle’s walls.
One of Leonardo’s most notable endeavors was the design of a colossal equestrian statue commissioned by Ludovico Sforza. Intended to immortalize the duke, this grand sculpture was to be cast in bronze, depicting him mounted on a horse. However, due to the complexities of the project, including the scarcity of bronze during the time and subsequent events like war and funding challenges, the statue was never completed. Nevertheless, the equestrian statue concept, known as the “Sforza Horse,” remains a fascinating piece of art history and a testament to Leonardo’s visionary approach.
While the equestrian statue stands as an incomplete masterpiece, Leonardo’s contributions extended beyond this ambitious endeavor. Within Sforza Castle, he applied his artistic talents to fresco painting, creating stunning murals that adorned the castle’s walls. Unfortunately, many of these frescoes did not survive over time, but their existence attests to Leonardo’s artistic prowess and his impact on the castle’s interior.
Leonardo’s time at Sforza Castle was not solely dedicated to artistry. His insatiable curiosity and inventive mind led him to work on various scientific and engineering projects within the castle’s confines. He explored ideas related to hydraulic engineering, studying water systems and devising innovative solutions to improve the city’s infrastructure.
Leonardo da Vinci’s contributions to Sforza Castle exemplify his multidisciplinary genius and his ability to merge art, science, and engineering seamlessly. His visionary concepts and creative spirit continue to captivate visitors as they explore the castle, appreciating the enduring legacy of one of history’s greatest minds.
Sforza Castle houses two prominent art museums that showcase a diverse range of artistic treasures:
Pinacoteca di Brera: The Pinacoteca di Brera is a renowned art gallery located within Sforza Castle. It houses an extensive collection of masterpieces from various periods, with a particular focus on Italian Renaissance art. You can admire works by renowned artists such as Raphael, Caravaggio, Bellini, Mantegna, and Piero della Francesca. The gallery’s collection encompasses religious paintings, portraits, mythological scenes, and other genres, providing a comprehensive overview of Italian art history.
The Pinacoteca (Picture Gallery) hosts over 1500 works of art from the 13th to 18th century and includes famous names such as Canaletto, Mantegna, Bronzino, Lorenzo Lotto, and Titian.
Museum of Ancient Art: The Museum of Ancient Art, also known as the Museum of the Castello Sforzesco, features an impressive collection of great value from the 5th century to the 16th century.
You’ll see exhibits of armoury, tapestry and funerary along with sculptures, decorative arts, and archaeological artifacts. It offers a glimpse into ancient civilizations, including Egyptian, Etruscan, Greek, and Roman cultures. During your visit, you can marvel at the intricately crafted sculptures, exquisite jewelry, and intricate artifacts that offer insights into the rich heritage of the Mediterranean region.
Both museums within Sforza Castle provide a captivating journey through art history, allowing visitors to appreciate the artistic achievements of different periods and cultures. From Renaissance masterpieces to ancient artifacts, these museums offer a diverse and enriching experience for art enthusiasts and history lovers alike.
There are a few more museums in Sforzesco Castle: The Museum of Musical Instruments; The Egyptian Museum; The Pre-historic Collection and The Archaeological Museum of Milan. More exhibitions such as the Medal & Numistica Collection, and the engraving collection, “Achille Bertarelli” are also on display.
Michelangelo’s Last Pietà
Michelangelo’s Last Pietà, also known as the Rondanini Pietà, is a remarkable sculpture that holds a special place in the artistic legacy of the renowned Italian artist, Michelangelo Buonarroti.
Created during the final years of Michelangelo’s life, the Last Pietà is unique among his works. Michelangelo continued to work on this sculpture up until the last days before his death in Rome in 1564. It was just a few weeks before what would have been his 89th birthday.
Unlike his earlier Pietà sculptures, which depicted the sorrowful Virgin Mary cradling the body of Jesus after the Crucifixion, the Last Pietà portrays a more complex and emotive scene. The sculpture depicts the figure of the Virgin Mary holding the lifeless body of Christ, but unlike previous versions, there is an evident sense of struggle and movement. Mary’s arms appear to strain under the weight of Christ’s body, conveying a raw and visceral emotional intensity. The sculptural composition exudes a sense of anguish, capturing the profound grief and sorrow of the moment.
What makes the Last Pietà particularly intriguing is its unfinished nature. Michelangelo worked on the sculpture during the last years of his life, and it remained unfinished at the time of his death in 1564. The sculpture lacks the refined details and smooth surfaces characteristic of Michelangelo’s earlier works, and instead, the figures are marked by rough, chiseled surfaces, giving the sculpture an almost unfinished and raw quality.
Despite its incomplete state, the Last Pietà has captivated art enthusiasts and scholars. Its rough, fragmented appearance has been interpreted as a deliberate artistic choice, suggesting Michelangelo’s exploration of the themes of mortality, transcendence, and the inherent struggle of the human condition. It stands as a poignant testament to Michelangelo’s genius and artistic vision, inviting viewers to contemplate the depths of human emotion and the fragility of life through its unfinished yet profoundly moving form.
The Rondanini Pietà Museum
The Rondanini Pietà, is now housed in the frescoed hall of the castle’s Ospedale Spagnolo (Spanish Hospital).
Carved from a single block of marble, the sculpture depicting the Virgin Mary grieving over the body of Christ stands to a height of 74 inches.
This intimate chapel was commissioned by Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, and serves as a testament to the artistic and cultural legacy of the Renaissance period. Designed by the renowned architect and sculptor Donato Bramante, the Sforza Chapel showcases the elegant and harmonious architectural style of the era.
The chapel’s interior features a central space with a simple, yet striking, design. The nave is characterized by a barrel-vaulted ceiling supported by delicate columns and pilasters adorned with intricate detailing. The highlight of the Sforza Chapel lies in its stunning frescoes, created by some of the most talented artists of the time. Notably, the renowned artist Bernardino Luini contributed to the frescoes, infusing them with his signature grace and softness.
The overall ambiance of the Sforza Chapel is one of serenity and spiritual contemplation. You can bask in the gentle light filtering through the stained glass windows, enhancing the mystical atmosphere of the space.
The Sforza Chapel stands as a testament to the patronage of the Sforza family and their support for the arts during the Renaissance. It offers a glimpse into the religious and artistic fervor of the time, showcasing the talent and creativity of the era’s most renowned artists.
Today, when visiting the Sforza Castle, you have the opportunity to explore and admire the beauty of the Sforza Chapel, appreciating its harmonious architecture and the exquisite frescoes that adorn its walls. It remains a captivating destination for art lovers, history enthusiasts, and those seeking a moment of reflection within the castle’s walls.
The Corte Ducale
The Corte Ducale Sforza Castle, also known as the Ducal Courtyard of Sforza Castle, is an elegantly designed central courtyard in Renaissance style within the castle complex. It has a beautiful loggia, Loggetta di Galeazzo Maria. Some of the rooms around the Corte Ducale are decorated with magnificent frescoes from the fifteenth century, designed by Leonardo da Vinci
It serves as a gathering space and a focal point of the castle’s architectural layout. The courtyard features a grand and open design, surrounded by impressive Renaissance-style buildings and structures. It offers a picturesque setting with its paved walkways, elegant colonnades, and decorative elements.
The Corte Ducale is often used for various events and activities, ranging from exhibitions and cultural performances to social gatherings and ceremonies.
Library and Archives
Sforza Castle is home to a library and archives that hold a wealth of historical and literary treasures.
The library houses a vast collection of books, manuscripts, and documents, offering a valuable resource for researchers and scholars interested in various subjects.
The archives preserve important historical records, correspondence, and administrative documents related to the castle’s history and the ruling families of Milan. Together, the library and archives at Sforza Castle provide a valuable source of knowledge and insight into the rich history of the region.
Bastion and Towers at Sforza Castle
Sforza Castle features bastions and towers that contribute to its imposing and defensive character. These architectural elements, strategically positioned throughout the castle, serve both practical and symbolic purposes.
The bastions provide fortified corners and protrusions, enhancing the castle’s defensive capabilities, while the towers offer elevated vantage points for surveillance and control. They showcase the military significance of the castle, highlighting its role as a stronghold and symbol of power in the region.
Gardens at Sforza Castle
The Gardens at Sforza Castle offer a serene and verdant escape within the bustling city of Milan. Spanning over extensive grounds, the gardens provide a tranquil oasis where visitors can relax, stroll, and appreciate nature. Lush green lawns, manicured hedges, vibrant flower beds, and majestic trees create a picturesque setting.
The gardens also feature charming pathways, decorative fountains, and seating areas, inviting visitors to enjoy the peaceful ambiance. Whether for a leisurely walk, a picnic, or simply a moment of respite, the Gardens at Sforza Castle provide a delightful retreat amidst the historical grandeur of the castle complex.
Cultural Events at Sforza Castle
Sforza Castle serves as a vibrant cultural hub, hosting a wide range of events throughout the year. These events showcase the rich heritage and artistic traditions of Milan. From concerts and theatrical performances to art exhibitions and cultural festivals, the castle comes alive with diverse cultural programming. Music, dance, theater, and visual arts, as well as workshops and educational activities feature prominently in their calendar. These cultural events offer everyone a chance to experience the city’s cultural vibrancy within the historic walls of the castle.
The summary of facts about Sforza Castle and Museum, Milan
- Historical Significance;
- Architectural Style;
- Leonardo da Vinci’s Contributions;
- Art Museums;
- Michelangelo’s Last Pieta;
- Sforza Chapel;
- The Corte Ducale;
- Library and Archives;
- Bastion and Towers;
- Gardens at Sforza Castle;
- Cultural Events at Sforza Castle.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION FOR VISITING SFORZA CASTLE, MILAN
How long will it take to see the Sforza Castle and Museum?
At a minimum, it will take 1 hour. If you want to see the museums and explore a little more of the expansive grounds, I’d suggest at least 3 hours. In three hours, you’ll be able to appreciate the museums, walk through the corridors and enjoy the gardens also.
Hours and Admission
Tuesday-Sunday 9.00-17.30 Last admission 17.00 (only for ticket holders)
Closed on Mondays, December 25th, January 1st, May 1st
Free entry to Sforza Castle
The Castle’s central courtyard is free at all times. It is Free entry to the museums on every first and third Tuesday of the month from 14.00
While most of the rooms are accessible, rooms 9, 10, 15, 23, 24 are not accessible to wheelchair users.
How to get to Sforza Castle
Location: Sforzesco Castle, Piazza Castello, 20121 Milan
M1 and M2 (red and green lines) Cadorna FN
M1 (red line) Cairoli
M2 (green line) Lanza
For a comprehensive guide to using the public transport in Milan, read > Getting around Milan like a Milanese. This article has all the information you need to get around Milan with confidence like a local. Includes types of transit tickets you may require, costs and links to the official ATM websites.
Would you like to Explore more of Milan and its surrounds?
If so, here are some of the articles about Milan and nearby for you to peruse so you can make the most of your visit:
- Where to Stay in Milan: 5 Best Areas
- Milan at a Glance: An Essential Read for First Visit
- Top 3 Leonardo’s Last Supper Tours
- 12 Very Best Easy Day Trips from Milan
- An Overview of Milan Centrale Station
- 5 Attractions in Parco Sempione, Milan Not to Miss
- Getting Around Milan like a Local: A Simple Guide to Milan’s Public Transportation
- Arco della Pace, Milan
- Quotes about Milan that makes the City Irresistible
- Milan at a Glance: An Overview of What to Expect
- Milan Bucket List Ideas: Best 19 Attractions
- How to Enjoy the Best of Milan in One Day
- Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Milan
- Riveting Facts about Milan Cathedral You’ll Love to Know
- Milan Cathedral: How to Make the Best of Your Visit
- The Best of Milan: The Sunset from the Rooftop Milan Cathedral
- The Ultimate Milan City Guide
If you have more time, visit the stunning Italian Lakes region
Here’s my guide to places to visit in Lake Garda:
- 10+ Top Things to do in Peschiera del Garda, Italy
- The Prettiest Towns in Lake Garda: 17 That You Must See
… my guide to Lake Como
Sforzesco Castle, is not only a castle full of art but is also huge and beautifully landscaped with central courtyards that beckons a visit when you are in Milan. If you do not have time for the museums, visit the castle courtyards as it is open to the public and it is free.
You’ll also find Parco Sempione, Milan’s largest public green space located at the rear of this magnificent landmark. A visit through the courtyard is highly recommended if Sempione Park is on your Milan itinerary.
Have a splendid time at the impressive Sforza Castle, Milan.
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Sforza Castle and Museum Milan was first published at timelesstravelsteps.com and is regularly updated. The last update was on May, 10, 2023.